Holidays

The 12 Pains of Christmas – Part 1

1. Getting all that crap out of the attic.

Dragging boxes out of their non-holiday nursing home wasn’t such a big deal 20 years and 30 pounds ago. It wasn’t my favorite activity even then, but I could generally haul the goods in less than 15 minutes without breaking a sweat or requiring reconstructive surgery after the deed was done. Then again, those were my “salad” days (translation: broke-ass poor) and I had maybe three boxes of mostly handmade or handed-down yule-tidery.

Now? Good God.

Just opening the attic door and lowering the ancient ladder causes me to have a small anxiety attack, with whimpering and such. Then I have to rest halfway up that stupid ladder because I’m so out of shape that turning on a light switch wears me out. After the pit stop, I finally make it up to the last few rungs where I can begin the ritual of searching for the invisible hanging chain that is connected to the light that only gets turned on twice a year. (Four times if something dies up there and we notice an odd smell while watching Survivor.)

This quest for fire, with lots of Helen Keller arm waving, usually lasts at least 5 minutes, two minutes of which are spent recovering from rounds of nearly losing my balance and plummeting to my death. (And, of course, there’s no one down there to help break my fall. As soon as I utter the hellish words “It’s time to get the Christmas stuff out of the attic”, there’s an instantaneous mass exodus from the house, with relatives and friends and family pets fleeing for their lives, scampering to hide behind bushes and trees and startled neighbors, communicating via walkie-talkie until all agree that the risk of returning is minimal.)

It’s just me and the mice droppings. Alone again, naturally.

And when I finally locate the light chain, yanking on it with the exasperated fury of a Kardashian who doesn’t yet have her own designer cologne or country, casting a weak light on the contents of the Hell Above Our Heads? Boxes. Boxes from here to China in all directions. Towers of boxes. If you need to hide from the po-po, just head up here, and your story will someday appear on Unsolved Mysteries.

To be fair, most of this mess is my own doing. As some of you know, I have an obsession with setting out a Christmas Village every year. I’ve toned it down a bit for the past few years, but there was a long stretch where my madness for acquiring miniature real estate knew no boundaries, with me snapping up tiny houses with a feverish intensity that nearly, and should have, led to an intervention.  Or an exorcism. Something.

But even though I acknowledge 97% of the responsibility for the fact that there isn’t a single inch of available floor space in the attic, it doesn’t mean I can’t fuss about it, so I do. (2 of the 712 boxes have things in them that are not mine, which therefore means that I am not alone in my transgressions and thusly everyone shares in the guilt, even the cats, who own nothing up here.)

I whine as I’m flat on my belly, my body contorted unnaturally as I stretch for a box of must-use ornaments that have been shoved into a far corner for some ungodly reason, a tiny space where even Jiminy Cricket wouldn’t be able to wear his top-hat, yet the box has been crammed in there somehow. I whine as I stumble-fall down the ladder under the weight of an enormous tub that has 50 rolls of after-Christmas bargain wrapping paper in it. I whine as I’m lying face-down on the couch hours later, my body wracked with spasming muscles that haven’t been used in 11 months, half-heartedly listening to the all-clear alert that has been sounded in the neighborhood so my family can return home.

2. That stupid wrapping paper in the stupid enormous tub.

We have three of those tubs. Well, at least three that I can identify in a police line-up. (Since I’ve pulled back on my Christmas Village display, from a time when I used to cover an entire 20×40 room down to just a subsection of that abused room, I don’t even use a big chunk of the boxed houses in the attic anymore. There are stacks of houses that haven’t even been inventoried in years. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to walk (crawl?) around one of those stacks and discover Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa having tea.)

We have more wrapping paper than we could possibly use for the next 50 years. We could wrap a fleet of Buicks in foil paper and not even make a dent in the stock. And I’m not talking about the pointless rolls of paper, the kind where you can only wrap two CD’s and you’re already down to the cardboard tube. Nope, these are the industrial-size, where a single roll could repave all the streets in my neighborhood and you’d still have enough left over to papier-mâché the Statue of Liberty. Big. Ass. Rolls.

How did this happen, you ask? Well, there’s a two-fold answer. Exhibit A is the fact that I lose control when they first introduce the new wrapping-paper designs each holiday season. I’m fully aware that we already have enough wrapping paper that activists concerned about the Brazilian rainforest have started an online petition to have me placed in lock-up for the last three months of each year.

But I still can’t help myself. When I see the shiny new patterns and designs, there are always several that I must have, even if somebody has to get hurt in the process. So I snag the ones I want and throw them into the shopping cart, next to the suntan lotion, because the start of the retail Christmas season has officially been moved to Independence Day. Then I lug my purchases home and throw them in a tub and no one ever sees them again. Except possibly Amelia and Jimmy.

Exhibit B has two perpetrators, myself and my partner. (He’s very wise with his money, never paying full price for anything unless a court order is involved, so he can easily resist the pre-Christmas temptation of paying 86 dollars for two designer sheets of wrapping paper.) But once Santa has gone back to the North Pole where he can live with hundreds of small boys and no one asks questions about it? Well, we’re both on the post-sales like crack-heads in the flour aisle at Piggly Wiggly.

How can you NOT buy something when it’s super cheap and you might possibly use it before the end of the century? That’s just un-American. When a roll of paper the size of a cheddar wheel has been slashed to fifty cents, that puppy is going in the basket, even if the design printed on the paper is a little questionable and may or may not involve deer engaging in mildly pornographic activities.

Moral of the story? We never use most of that discount paper. A few rolls, yes, on gifts for those relatives where you are obligated to get them a little something but you really don’t care for them and your heart isn’t in it. (Don’t lie, we all have those kinfolk.) So you end up shoving their present to the back of the tree in that mystery zone where you eventually always find that one present that no one claims to have wrapped, with a name tag of somebody you don’t know. (“Aunt Charlene? Who the hell is Aunt Charlene? Anybody?”)

Crickets chirp.

3. The Tree of Pain

There was a time when I was equally divided between having a “live” Christmas tree and an artificial one. Live trees are pretty swell, I love the smell of them and the uniqueness of each tree. Downside? The damn needles that fall off constantly, of course, ending up from one end of the house to the other, aided and abetted by pets who are religiously convinced that these needles must be shared with the world and the bare feet that walk upon it.

Oh, and we mustn’t forget the watering angle. This is not a particularly taxing aspect of live-tree nurturing, but a healthy tree can suck up gallons of liquid before it realizes that its days are numbered, and it can be quite easy to forget to keep an eye on the bucket of nourishment nestled under the tree. And when you do forget, two horrid things happen: One, the tree can become so dried out that someone lighting a cigarette at the convenience store two blocks over can inadvertently cause your house to burn down. And two, those damn needles are no longer pliant and less able to pierce the skin. They are now hardened spikes that qualify for regulation by government authorities.

Now, a fake tree is no walk in the park, by any means. First off, there’s the misconception about the box that it comes in. That box is only adequate storage for the tree parts for a very limited amount of time, namely the duration of the trip from the store where you bought it to your house. Once you slice the binding tape on said box, the Christmas music playing in the background should change to the soundtrack from The Exorcist.

Because that tree is never going to fit in that box again. Ever.

Try as you might, it’s just not going to happen. Sure, the first year, you might get most of the parts back into the original receptacle. You’ll sweat your ass off doing so, but the tree has not yet learned that you are its bitch and is still mostly cooperative.

Within two years you can only get half of the tree parts in the box. Within four, the whole process is pointless. The box now has the consistency of wet toilet paper, ripping apart if you breathe on it, and the only thing that fits in the box is the tree stand, and that thing has lost a critical turn screw. (The cat denies involvement, but you know that Fluffy has lied in the past during interrogations.) You might as well throw the stand away. Or at least into the stack of older, rusty stands that have also disappointed their parents.

The turning point for me? The invention of the pre-lit artificial tree.

This was a sign that there is a god of some kind, a caring god, one that does not want his/her children to suffer through the mind-wrecking ordeal of stringing lights on a Christmas tree, a horrendous task that the World Health Organization should ban, based on the number of divorces and voluntary commitments to insane asylums that have resulted from a burnt-out bulb that cannot be found.

So it’s been pre-lits for me ever since. First, you simply connect the various parts of the tree together (using the instruction manual, written by someone making two cents an hour and who really doesn’t know any English other than “Lady Gaga”). Then you connect the various electrical plugs (which can be a bit tricky, since you will initially encounter more female plugs than male plugs, something that historically only happens on the island of Lesbos or at the Dinah Shore Invitational, but keep at it and things will balance out). Finally, you shove the main plug into a socket that hopefully has the blessing of the local chapter of the IBEW.

Et voila! Pretty lights without the need for attorneys and restraining orders.

Now, the pre-lit does not get my full love and support. It’s still an artificial tree, and as such, it is subject to the new tree-fabrication technology that allows these things to be manufactured in a manner where the various branches have been so tightly wound together that it looks like a small shrub on the conveyor belt in the originating factory, one located in a country that does not recognize things like a minimum wage that actually means anything.

This production process allows the tree to be nestled in a box that you will never use again. It also means that you must now “fluff” the tree, once it has been released in your home.

Fluffing = misery. It takes forever to pry the little branch-lets away from the main branch. And you can’t screw around with this prying. You have to shape and mold each little tendril or your tree will look like road-kill. This means that, even though you got the Express Pass with the “not having to string lights” angle, you must still spend a considerable amount of time with the fluffing. Hours and hours. Long enough that by the time you are finished, everyone else has gone to bed.

Except the cat. The cat who has been eyeing your handiwork for most of the evening, waiting for that sublime moment when you quit jacking with the tree and walk away in defeat, seeking counseling and hopefully prescription tranquilizers. Once you leave the room, the cat will leap on the tree, claw its way to the top, chew off the top third of the tree, and then knock the rest of it over for you to find in the morning when all you really wanted to find was a bagel and some coffee….

 

Click here to read the next installment in this series.

 

Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 11/30/12 and “Bonnywood Manor” on 12/18/15. Minor adjustments made, most of them involving my ongoing quest to curtail my fetish for run-on sentences. (Why do I sometimes think it’s okay to have one sentence commandeer half the page? What is wrong with me?)  Story behind the photo: A snap of just one section of my Christmas Village, during the halcyon days when I went all out…

 

34 replies »

  1. That did make me laugh! An advantage of living in a succession of small apartments means we’ve not been able to a) store or b)put up many decs. So our whole Xmas stash is just three small boxes and a bag of tinsel.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, I remember the days of living in smaller dwellings, where many life decisions were dictated by space availability. This is where I may have erred by moving into a large house. There are simply too many places where I can store things that I shouldn’t have bought in the first place. My house is an enabler… 😉

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  2. Can I just say? I need to say this. I have been suffering something of a grim malaise (as outlined in my last blog-post) … basically a mean, feeling sorry for myself cloud that refused to leave the space just above my head for a while. Heres the thing … you, maestro, you have been integral in dissipating this cloud and today, reading this and the hallowed words *deer engaging in mildly pornographic activities*, today I feel light of head, fleet of foot and heartily thankful for my life once more. Thank you Brian. You know not what you do 💕

    Liked by 4 people

    • Osyth: I haven’t yet responded to your last blog post, unsure of what I could say to make things a bit better. It’s certainly gratifying to hear that I may have indirectly helped in some way, as hopefully you are aware that I would love to do so. (Of course, the previous statement is somewhat negated by the fact that I haven’t yet responded to your last blog post, so there’s that to consider. Hopefully you’ll appreciate my intentions and disregard my inaction, which is essentially what most of us hope to be the case.) End of the day, every single word from you is music. I just need to become more adept at returning the song…

      Claudette: You scare me sometimes with your precision. In a good way… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Shh! Say nothing. I was actually bothered about posting that piece but it seemed to have to be writ before I could move on from my malaise. I am perfectly sparkling and zesty again now and would be writing more regularly except for a parade of visitors this last 10 days. The last returns to Blighty on Sunday and I will be boring you all to bits and bobs in the run up to Christmas. Now. Come up with a marvelous monicker for this nouvelle Bloomsbury idea 😀

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  3. So you had to bring up the wrapping paper! This is one of my bugbears. I have one huge tub of paper and I didn’t buy any of it. Our daughters have moved overseas and rather than store the paper, they brought it to my house. I’m thinking of setting up a lemonade/giftwrap stand out the front and hope to move some of it. Or maybe I’ll wrap the neighbour’s car (not a Buick).

    By the way, my sister (the one who lives in Tulsa/Broken Bow) has as much, if not more, wrapping paper than you. You have tubs, she has a wrapping room. So maybe it’s an Oklahoma thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It very well could be an Oklahoma thing. I can’t really pinpoint a root cause, but I do lose my mind with the hoarding of the paper. Perhaps it’s just the result of my clinging to a time in my youth when Christmas was still magical and anything was possible…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I giggled and howled my way to this “Leave a Reply” box, and all I can say is that if there were ever any doubt that you are my favorite blogger in the universe it has now been put to rest forever by this single Christmas post.

    We are truly kindred spirits – wrapping paper, tiny houses, trees, attics and all. For YOU, my love, I would even take on the fluffing, except that I am highly allergic to cats.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, now you’ve got me feeling all mushy and sentimental, my heart full of love for kind people who say wonderfully kind things. Of course, my street cred would be destroyed if word got out about my tender side, so I may have to pretend this conversation never happened. But seriously, thank you very much, and I shall now take a moment to fix myself a decadent late-night snack and luxuriate in the warm glow you have proffered. With the curtains closed, naturally, because of the street cred I must maintain… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • PROBABLY a good idea to keep those curtains closed anyway. We all have a lot of sides we don’t want to parade in front of the entire world – especially during the Christmas season when people are most apt to peek into windows, hoping to partake of someone else’s Christmas glow so they can avoid having to dance the box step tango at their own house (or is that b.s. tangle?).
        xx,
        mgh

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Well more proof, as if we needed it, that we were separated at birth. The world reacting perhaps to the possibility that had we remained together, there would have been a paradox phenomenon destined to destroy life as previously known. And the whole pesky business of Oklahoma versus Utah, which, let us face it, are the same damn places, cleverly disguised to appear separate. Scratch the surface and you find yourself in Blanding or Broken Bow…and it’s impossible to tell which. Back to the hilarity of this on-going festive verbage…. at least now I know I’m not alone in being puzzled at why my fluff-less tree (it’s really a big plastic branch, which looks startlingly (if you don’t look too close that is) like one was crafty and found a dead tree (non-conifer) and embedded lots of little twinklies in the bark and along the ‘limbs’. I stopped getting it out of the box two Christmases ago now because I was in danger of going back to the store and stuffing it up the manager’s buttocks because it did not FIT in the box anymore. Despite shoving.

    Vis a vis the village of the snow damned…my sister in law has/had one of those and my brother LOATHED the thing because he was the one who had to mess about, getting it out of the basement (no attic), and then because inevitably some gremlin had broken a vital electrical connection in one of the wee faux cottages or churches or well you have them. You know, he’d have to try to figure out why the tiny store window didn’t light up. I maintain that’s why he is now balder than he was prior to Village Bliss. Last Christmas I brought out my collection of Boyd’s Bears. Set up the whole thing. It was cute and people oohed and aahed appropriately at the nativity and the carolers under a wee street lamp. In January (late January…I don’t take the stuff down IMMEDIATELY on Dec 26th…I’m more apt to wait around until maybe spring). Taking it down was the biggest pain in the ass I’ve ever experienced…because those %$@# bears wouldn’t go back in their designated boxes EITHER. A village would theoretically be a breeze I’m thinking, but I’m not going to find out. You gave the gift of information with this post today, and I’ll be eternally grateful too…

    Liked by 1 person

    • We may have babbled about this before, and I know I did so in the “Village of the Damned” series, but it bears (no pun intended) repeating: At the height of my Village Mania, it would take an entire week to set it up, and I would take time off from work to do so. The whole first day involved merely the rearranging of furniture and the setting up of about twenty folding tables to ensure that I have enough level and workable real estate. Then I would wrap everything in fake-snow felt until you could no longer determine the original function of anything, making everything temporarily overwhelming white, as if a blizzard had hit South Dallas and there were no survivors. Then I would…

      You know, rather than cover all the torturous highlights, I think you may have just convinced me to run the entire “Village of the Damned” series again, despite having just run it last year and much to the chagrin of the poor fellow readers who have been around for years and have already put up with that mess at least twice, more so if they followed my past blog incarnations. Let me see what I can do…

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  6. I had to do that crap all by myself for years! 17 full sized trees, and I’m not talking about 6 footers. I even had trees in my bathrooms. Not a square inch of my house was left unadulterated. My daughter used to call me and said “does it look like Santa threw up in your house yet?”
    I don’t do in anymore. Christmas was ruined for me…but the upside is….I don’t have to repack all of that shit and haul those huge trees up to the attic….all by myself. Yay!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I have seriously toned it down the last few years myself, to the point of not doing much of anything at all. When I was still working, I would always take the entire week of Thanksgiving off, and even in those 9 days I rarely got everything fully prepped, because there was simply so much to set out. And I do miss having the house filled with Christmas. But things change, as you well know, and I now make myself content by reliving the memories and not the current reality…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ah, memories of my youth, when decorating every inch of my house for Christmas was pure joy, maybe even topping – oh, sorry, we’ll not go there. Over the years, that joy diminished, especially since I always ended up being the one that had to string the lights on the tree and then remove them after the holiday. Now my children are no longer children, but are adults with no little children for whom gifts are necessary, and we have opted to share our holidays giftless. Huge relief – no more trying to find the “perfect” gift, knowing full well no such thing exists. Progress – the prelit tree – more progress – this year my decorations are a runner on the dining table, topped by a wreath into which I’ve inserted LED candles that have a built-in timer, as well as a second wreath on the coffee table into which I inserted LED candles, but without a timer. That may need to be rectified (or eliminated) next year. The joy of the year for me is having those adult kids home with me, and no other decorations are required, truly.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It really can be a lot of work, the all-out transformation of the house into a Yuletide Extravaganza. But I still greatly enjoyed it for a number of years, decades actually, even if I was really doing it just for myself. After a while, though, the gumption faded, and things started to feel a bit forced. Perhaps someday I’ll return to prime form, but I could just as easily be content with the memories of what once was…

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Yes, I’m with you on the tree pain. My family was divided on the issue, most insisting on a real tree (with me doing all the watering & vacuuming), until I settled it by ordering a pre-lit tree online, solving the aroma issue with a pine-scented candle. Works for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Random aside: I actually haven’t even put a tree out for the the last three or four years, as it has been that long since we hosted any part of the extended-family Christmas pageantry, and Terry and I no longer exchange gifts. But for this year’s Neighborhood Association yuletide shindig, I committed to providing folding tables, as I have plenty of them in storage, leftovers from the height of my Christmas Village shenanigans. As I dragged said tables out of one of the sheds in our backyard today, I spied the last pre-lit Christmas tree I had purchased, sitting forlornly in a shadowy corner. Twinges were felt, and there just might be a resurgence. Stay tuned…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. As a kid I loved a real tree. As a parent of young kids I loved a real tree. Now I have a foot high metal, pyramid shaped card tree. I smother it is tinsel, put up a few foil decorations and I’m done.
    (Preceding the card tree I had a chicken-wire tepee tree that I made myself – it was good, but it wasn’t storable hence the card-tree).

    Liked by 2 people

    • For me, the best real Christmas tree I ever had was many years ago, when I had only been in Dallas for a few years and I had absolutely no spare money. I managed to convince a tree-seller to let me have a misshapen tree for next to nothing, and I then went to Goodwill (a store where folks donate used items for cheap resale) and I found two enormous rolls of satin ribbon, one purple and the other pink, for 50 cents each. I also found some tree lights that had seen better days but were still mostly working. I took my modest bounty home, strung the lights on the sad tree, and then cut the ribbons into one-inch squares, which I then sprinkled all over the tree. It was the most beautiful tree ever, because everything about it was hope…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. We use a small 4 inch fake tree.

    My blood boils when I think of all those
    beautiful trees that are unnecessarily
    slaughtered each year for no reason.

    If they are then used for firewood after the
    holidays are over.. Get out of jail free card.

    Liked by 1 person

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